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The Manifestation of an Architectural Philosophy in Ralph Erskine's Byker Township

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Graeme Ditchburn
University of Strathclyde | UK
The pragmatic, common sense approach which has been taken in the context of this ambitious, perhaps radical, redevelopment is an ode to the personality of the architect. Erskine demonstrates the role of communication in the design process, not just with the clients but with the users, whom he polemically calls "the real clients". It is not unreasonable to expect that such an attitude should lead to a less than amicable relationship with the authorities, which has shrouded the scheme in controversy. In this repsect the scheme qualified Erskine's sceptical attitude towards authority and its lack of recognition of architecture as a vehicle for democratic expression.

Many of the ideas and approaches to housing in the post-war era have been heavily criticised and often viewed with contempt. They are fundamentally flawed in their failure to provide a structure for community life outside yet in intimate contact with, the home. Instead, these schemes, which were motivated by the Modernist mass production philosophy, simply provided containers for the individual and the family with no integration with an appropriate system of public spaces that would constitute a meaningful environment. Byker, by contrast, has provided a prototype for urban life which is still relevant, despite not being adaptable enough to cope with socio-economic changes and differing expectations. The idea is immune to changing values and stylistic transitions, enduring economic destruction and political apathy and remaining a model for generations of future urban villages. Perhaps this is the greatest tribute to its unflagging architect and the philosophy which drives him.

Graeme Ditchburn

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